Chapter 45 — The Social Register

March 29, 2012

Mayor Combs was rushed to KU Med Center on Tuesday, where doctors performed surgery to unblock three of his arteries. He is doing well, according to Marie, but he’s concerned that he won’t be able to do any more campaigning before the election next Tuesday. Don’t worry, Mr. Mayor, we’ve got this.

As part of their campaigns for Town Council,Billy Thornton and Ralph Thompson had a debate on Saturday in the Courthouse Square. It was attended by two people who were passing through Walnut Shade on their way to Topeka, and a stray dog, later taken to Dr. Cramer’s kennel. There is no indication how the dog will be voting.

H. Walker Lewis, president of the Kansas Historical Society, was in town on Monday to unveil the historical marker place near the site of Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop. Les Derby, as mayor pro-tem, accepted the marker on behalf of the town. Rodney Dane was recognized as Henry’s great-great grandson.

Glenda Singleton accompanied her sister-in-law, Jennifer Singleton, to Leawood on Monday to drop off a group of Jennifer’s photos at a gallery. She’ll have a show there beginning in May. Glenda also picked up a few copies of the 435 magazine that included one of her poems in a feature on Flint Hills artists and writers.

Phyllis Dane reports that the Miller County Master Gardeners have completed plans for their spring garden tour, which will feature gardens in Fremont, Longwood, and Parkersburg. The fall theme was “Contemplation” and the spring design concept will be “Anticipation.” The tour will be the weekend of May 4 and 5 and tickets will be available the Extension Center in Fremont and at garden shops around the county.

Jeff Cornett, Don’s brother who lives in Steamboat Springs, has recovered from his injuries suffered when his front porch collapsed from the weight of the snow they received in late January. Don says that Jeff won’t be skiing for a while yet, but hopes to get on the slopes one last time before the season closes in a couple of weeks.

Miss Cecelia Davenport had lunch with Hazel and Millie Bradford on Tuesday. Miss Cecelia hasn’t been out of the house much lately. She twisted her ankle shoveling snow a couple of weeks ago and Dr. Oswald advised her to stay off it while it healed.

Daphne Wolfe’s piano students will give their first recital on Sunday at the First Baptist Church. There will be a reception afterwards and everyone is welcome.

Ruth Stanford, Ilene Wick, Lori Mendenhall, and Anna Brady played cribbage on Tuesday at Walnut Rest. The Mahjong tiles are still missing despite a facility-wide search, but the group is enjoying the change of pace with new games. Lori says that if the tiles are not located, they will be forced to play blackjack one of these weeks.

Eddy Barnett is still smarting from her Missouri Tigers’ loss to Norfolk State in the first round of March Madness. Jeff, on the other hand, has been celebrating, and trying not to gloat, about his Jayhawks progress through the tournament. He is particularly anticipating the championship game between KU and UK.

The Willing Workers 4-H Club met on Monday and enjoyed a program on “The Four Rs of Public Speaking.” Members of the Club, over the years, have been very successful in that category at county and state contests.

Eric Weston was in town last week, taking a break from his work on Rizzoli and Isles. He has been casted in an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles that he things will air in November or December.

After a great deal of persuasion by the members of the Altar Society, Dorothy Westover has agreed to rejoin the committee, but not as chair for now.

Harry and Pamela Harris, Inez’s nephew, visited on Sunday from Marysville. After lunch, they took a walk around the park and enjoyed the unusually mild weather. The high on Sunday was 78 degrees.

Al and Carol Higgs’ son, Rusty, was in town for Sunday dinner. Besides the opening of his salt manufacturing plant in May, Rusty had some big news for his parents: he’s getting married! His long-time partner, Josh Graves, said “Yes” and a small June wedding in Carmel is planned.

I’d love to spend June in Carmel, but chances are this is where…

I’ll remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

If any more historic markers are placed in Walnut Shade, the whole town may have to be declared a historic site. In fact, there has been considerable talk since the Main Street designation that a large part of the town might be nominated. With the recognition of Henry Dane’s shop, there are now four markers in town or right outside.

The first marker was placed about a quarter mile north of the confluence of Walnut Creek and the Vermillion River, a site that was once called Donner Crossing, to commemorate the point at which that ill-fated band of pioneers commenced their journey west (the site was renamed Walnut Shade when the town was platted; when a town was formed four miles up the Vermillion, it was named Donner Crossing, though it had no connection to the wagon train).

A similar maker was placed just outside of Walnut Shade on the eastern edge of town to identify the site of the encampment of many other wagon trains who stopped here in the 1840s and ‘50s. Hundreds of wagons on the California, Oregon and Mormon trails passed through or close by Walnut Shade. In our park, you can still see some of the ruts the wagons wheels made.

The third plaque is located in Courthouse Square to recognize that it was part of the parkway designed by John Charles Olmsted and his firm; to remember that the Square was once the site of the Miller County seat of government; and, to point out that it is the only circular “Square” in the state, a distinction that baffles many geographers and geometers.

There was a minor bit of controversy when the idea of the latest historical marker was proposed: the Kansas Historical Society objected to the idea of placing a marker in front of a convenience store. I’ll explain that in a moment.

It seems that the site for the marker has been several businesses over the years, besides the blacksmith shop. When Henry gave up blacksmithing in 1861, the shop was added onto and served for many years as a stables for several townspeople who lived within a block or two. Visitors to town staying at the hotel left their horses and buggies there. It was called Walnut Shade Feed and Tackle until it was sold to Lucian Bradford who operated a cider press in the front and stored his apples in the back awaiting shipping to other locales. He also managed a farmers’ cooperative market for many years there. A fire in 1901 effectively put Bradford out of business and the building was mostly demolished, with only a couple of the original walls left standing. The Bradfords sold the lot and what was left of the building to Lyle Stanford who erected a new building that held another the farmers’ cooperative market until just before the First World War. Many local farmers withdrew from the cooperative during the recession of 1913-1914 and Stanford was left with a building that housed nothing.

Stanford was shrewd businessman in spite of his setbacks. He had seen that the future of transportation in eastern Kansas was no longer the horse and buggy but that newfangled invention: the automobile. Stanford first talked to Ransom Olds in 1904 about setting up an Oldsmobile dealership in Walnut Shade, but they weren’t able to come to terms, so he turned his attention to Henry Ford, who was building his automobile assembly plant in Detroit. The first Model Ts rolled off the assembly line in 1908 and by 1910, Stanford had opened his Ford sales and repair shop in the building that had once housed one of the first blacksmith shops in Kansas.

Lyle Stanford turned his dealership over to his son, Rans in March, 1929 (Rans had been born during Lyle’s negotiations with Ransom Olds; Lyle later said that he would have named him Edsel had he been born later or had Ford agreed to grant him a dealership earlier). In October of that year, of course, the stock market collapsed and by the following fall, automobile sales around the area had declined to the point that Rans was forced to close the business. Once again, there was an empty building on First Street, occupied intermittently by a tobacco warehouse; a store collecting and selling clothing, furniture, used appliances to people experiencing falling or no wages; a cooperative soup kitchen; and, a “revival” church.

In 1935, the Federal government established the Works Progress Administration and leased the building to be the local site of both projects being undertaken through the Civilian Conservation Corp and the WPA. The CCC had already been working in Miller County, having begun the flood  control project on Walnut Creek east of town, and the courthouse annex in Fremont. When the WPA began operating, several roads in Miller County were paved, the reservoir and park at Willow Springs was completed and the shelter in Walnut Shade park was built.

The WPA was also responsible, through its Federal Project Number One, for support of many artists, writers, actors and musicians in the area. The Opera House was renovated during this time and hosted many musical and theatrical performances. The Post Office mural was painted by Birger Sandzen and Johnson Arne created the sculpture of Hermes and Athena in the courthouse square.

With the advent of World War II, most of the Federal programs created to ease unemployment caused by the Depression came to an end.  Once again, Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop, or what remained of it, was empty. During the war it was used as a collection point for newspaper, tin, used rubber and tires, waste kitchen fats (used in making munitions), steel, lumber, and scrap metals of all kinds. After the war, Rans Stanford, who had maintained tenuous ownership of the building, opened a used car dealership on the vacant lot next door and operated a repair shop with his brother, Lyle, Jr. When Rans died in 1975, ownership passed to Lyle, Jr. and eventually to Lyle’s two sons. The used car dealership ceased operating in 1990 and the two lots at the corner of First and Fremont were sold to Fred Tucker, who had secured a Stop and Go franchise. In keeping with the times, Fred razed the building and erected a modern convenience store on the site. His decision to do so was met with a great deal of opposition in the community. There was much sentiment for keeping at least the portion of the building that had survived from Henry Dane’s time, but we all knew it wasn’t really practical to do that. Fred was getting pressure from the Stop and Go headquarters to move forward and as an accommodation to the historians in town, a wall of drawings and photos was added showing the evolution of the corner.

The fight over the site eventually died down, until the Main Street/Pride committee began working to  rejuvenate the downtown. As so often happens, new ideas collide with old norms but by then the Stop and Go’s “convenience store modern” architecture was considered settled style. After many, many, many discussions, the committee and Fred came to an understanding about how his store fit into the revitalization plans and that was when the notion of the placing a historical marker on the site was born. The application to the Kansas Historical Society for the marker was rejected twice and had it not been for the intervention of Rodney Dane, Hazel and Millie Bradford, and Ruth Stanford, all descendants of owners of the site across the years, a third application would have also been turned down. Inez Harris also got behind the effort, and in part because of her connections in Topeka, it finally succeeded.

So, the marker was placed this week and this is the text of another important addition to our community, standing proudly in front of the Stop and Go:

Henry Dane’s Blacksmith Shop

In 1847, Henry Dane was traveling with a wagon train heading to the west on the Oregon Trail. By the time the travelers reached their intended crossing of the Vermillion River, several of the wagons had suffered a variety of mechanical failures and were in need of repair. Dane had been a blacksmith in St. Louis and had brought many of his tools, and his considerable experience, with him, intending to open a business in California. Seeing a need and an opportunity, he decided to delay his journey, for a few months he thought, in order to assist his fellow pioneers on their trek. As it turned out, Dane liked the area so much, and had become so successful in his trade, that he decided to stay, and with a few other travelers, established the town of Walnut Shade.

By the start of the Civil War, Dane had sold his shop to another local businessman, Lucian Bradford who operated the Walnut Shade Feed and Tackle for many years. As horses and buggies gave way to the automobile, the building became the site of the first Ford sales and repair dealership in eastern Kansas. Through the Depression and the Second World War, the original building saw many changes and finally in 1990, it was demolished for the construction of a modern convenience store. While the original building is gone, this site still honors the frontier blacksmith shop that began life here.

~.~

Over a Bach’s Lunch of chicken salad salad (not to be confused with Jerry Hall’s chicken salad sandwich, not that anyone would ever confuse the two), Glenda Singleton and I talked about how what used to be called “society magazines” have become the big town versions of small town correspondents’ columns. Any town the size of say, Manhattan, has its own publication, purportedly created to give readers an in-depth look at some of the things going on in the community. Topeka’s, for example, bills itself as the  “Premier magazine on people, places and style” and the version in St. Joesph runs features on the local college, gardening, food, and new businesses. Nearly every suburb surrounding Kansas City has its own magazine, each city there trying desperately to set itself apart from its neighbors.

“I was a bit surprised that the one that runs stories about what’s happening south of I-435 in Leawood and Overland Park accepted my poem, but they were doing a piece about day-trips in eastern Kansas and it fit into their formula,” Glenda explained. “And they all do have a formula, it seems.”

There are a couple of the magazines in the Kansas City area that are strictly about goings on in the world of “high society,” such as The Independent, proudly published since 1899. As its says, if you read The Independent, you’ll be able to “stay informed and abreast of the myriad of balls, galas and non-profit events that happen in Our Town every year,” but you won’t find much discussion of politics or social issues in it unless one of the spouses of a local politician hosts a brunch or afternoon tea to raise money for a worthy cause.

The other glossy magazines (and they are very glossy) usually have a feature on a notable garden or landscaping project; a remodel of a house that has some local heritage; an event, such as an art show, race, ribbon-cutting, or gala that supports other local charities or organizations; some sort of piece about fashions of the current or upcoming season; tips on where to travel; and a celebration of the opening of a new, usually trendy, business. All of this is really just the framework for the same kind of things that I report on every week here in  Walnut Shade. Look closely and you’ll find who visited whom; who took a trip to where; who had morning coffee/lunch/afternoon coffee/dinner with whom; who is/was in the hospital/recovering from an illness/died; what big events took place and who attended those; what celebrities came back to visit; whose son/daughter/grandson/granddaughter just got accepted to college/made the dean’s list/graduated/got a job; whose story/poem/book/work of art just got published/shown; who moved into town/out of town; where people when on their vacation/holiday; who played bridge/bingo/Mahjong/Parcheesi/Dungeons and Dragons with whom (although I’ve never reported on that last one around here; I suppose I’m not really that in tune with the generation playing those sorts of games; something to work on, probably).

It’s really important to be included in those big-town magazine on a regular basis. It’s part of the sorting process of determining who is important and who isn’t in the community. For small towns, like Walnut Shade, being included is just a natural occurrence because everyone here knows their place already and doesn’t have to compete for a higher spot on the social register. In fact, there really is no social register here and the spots would all be pretty much the same if there were. That is not to say that folks don’t want to see themselves in the column. Oh, indeed they do.

“Jessica [Glenda’s daughter] was disappointed last week when you forgot to mentioned that she was chosen to represent the 4-H club at the state meeting in Manhattan,” Glenda reminded me.

Jessica is only eleven, but she already knows that there is some currency, as small as it might be around here, in being able to point to her name and say to her friends, “See, that’s me.”

~.~

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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